Pet Book Project #5: Digital Facsimiles of “The Federalist: on the New Constitution”

The Federalist Papers, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, are some of the most influential writings of our nations history. As a result, textual copies are very easy to track down. However, digital facsimiles of my specific book, The Federalist: On the New Constitution are much scarcer. One digital facsimile I found is being held in the research wing of the New York Public Library. While this is not the only one I found, I decided to focus on this one because it shares a similar story to the copy I have been working with.

While there is not a photo of the book as a whole, there is an image of the cover. The front cover is a deep red, a stark contrast from the dark brown found on my copy. The color has remained quite fierce, as despite its age the pigment is still very obvious. Upon opening the book, there are no textual differences. Age is evident in the pages as splotches can be found throughout the essays. However, the use of the books seems to be slightly different. As detailed in my last entry, the edition I have been working with is covered with marginalia, particularly at the front. Names and dates pepper the first couple pages and library cards are found at the end. This edition online has absolutely none of these words or numbers. Not a single line of pencil marks the pages. This is certainly surprising, as the book is part of a public library and given its contents it would make sense that it would be used frequently. However, while marginalia can indicate use, it is not the only piece of evidence that we can look at.

The cover of the facsimile is a really interesting one. It is a bright red and looks to be in great condition. This is very different from the copy I have been working with, as the back cover is a dull brown and it has been entirely torn off from heavy use. While I cannot say with a hundred percent certainty that this is a rebinding, I highly doubt it is the original binding. This is for two major reasons: color and condition. This bright red would be very expensive to print in 1817 as colored ink was much more expensive then black ink. And even if it was printed in the 19th century, at just over 200 years old it should be much more faded than it is today. While this is the largest clue, the condition of the cover also helps to support the argument of the book being rebounded. While we can only look at a photo, the cover seems to be in way too good of a condition for it to be printed so long ago. There is a slight fraying visible on the bottom right side but other than that the material is in great shape. Most likely, the fraying we see is a result of its use following the re-binding.

The front cover of the digital facsimiles

The use of the book following its rebinding is very similar to my books use. The New York Public Library stamp can be found on the front cover and there is also checkout date of May 1912 on the cover page. This means the book has spent over one hundred years in the care of library, just as my copy has spent many years at the Colby College library. The lack of marginalia indicates that while the book can be used the library does not want their readers to mark the book.

The final question I wanted to look at was: Why would someone use this book? I do not mean why someone would read the Federalist Papers but why would someone choose to read the Federalist Papers in these books specifically? What do these books offer that other sources don’t? Primarily, these books help to preserve the form of media they were originally presented in. While books were not the exact form of media the essays were released in, (the essays were published anonymously in a New York newspaper) they do a much better job of mimicking it than an online edition would. These essays were written to be read off of paper. Being able to physically hold these essays helps to convey their importance as pillars of our government. However, online editions of the Federalist Papers do hold some advantages over their paper counterparts. While the table of contents is a useful tool it does not quite compare to the search function available to digital texts. The speed in which online editions allow for the reader to track down specific essays or passages is far superior to what the codices can offer.

The navigational system of the online edition also helps when reading it. One of the drawbacks of a digital facsimile is that it can be very hard to read. The pages can take a very long time to load and just scrolling down doesn’t compare to the traditional feeling of turning pages. One of the ways my facsimile could be read was in this fashion, and it took forever to load and was hard to read. However, it did make finding a specific passage a lot easier. The site my book was on also offered a way to read it in the more traditional sense. While it doesn’t quite compare to reading the physical copy, this allows for the reader to read the book in a more conventional fashion.